What a Difference a Year Makes!
A year ago, my debut novel, Skeletal, was released. After five years of rejection for novels, screenplays and picture books, by 2017, I was starting to feel like my writing career would never get off the ground.
Then a magical book fairy with a dark mind took a chance on a genre she doesn’t usually print. We knew it wouldn’t sell millions of copies right out of the gates but it sold in the thousands and has a loyal fan base, which is awesome! My first novel can only be described as a hot mess. There were grammar issues and typos, it wasn’t as well-crafted or tight as I would have liked and this was because I was a newbie and had no idea what I was doing or how things worked.
What being brave enough to take the plunge and accept a book deal did do was tell me that yes, I do have a talent for storytelling and yes, people enjoy what I write (phew!) but I also found out that my dystopian stuff is not mainstream and therefore more likely to find fame on the screen but with some of the more questionable scenes cut. Those who have read both books know what I’m referring to. Thankfully, the sequel, Avian, was a tighter book. I listened. I learned. I did better.
Next step: write what my publisher and mentor asked me to write in the first place. I needed to get the dystopian story out of me. I love it. I love the characters. I love the bleak world and the monsters within it, but ultimately, people told me I write like a screenwriter and that the duology would make a great TV series or film, and I think they’re right. Visuals and set pieces are my strengths. Flawed characters (especially secondary ones) and dialogue (or not using too much of it) are also strong points for me. I found out structure is my weakness. This epiphany was thanks to Lucy V Hay and her advanced screenwriting course. Now I know what I need to work on. Writers are always learning and improving. Which is good because all I want to do is keep getting better and giving my audience a better experience with every new project.
At the beginning of 2018, I was asked by a friend (cheers Jon) to pick a word to describe what 2018 was going to have in store. I said EPIC. It has been that. Since my first novel was published my career has shot forwards at breakneck speed. Here’s what happened.
In 2011 my first published work was a picture book. This was a fluke, and created to raise money for charity but it was also the catalyst for my decision to become a professional writer.
The real journey began end of 2016 when the first short story I'd ever written, London’s Crawling, was a finalist in a competition and then won a place in the Dark Minds anthology published by Bloodhound Books. I went to the book launch, met the publisher and thought they were awesome! They asked me to write crime. I’ve always been fascinated by serial killers and cults but didn’t have any ideas for a crime novel. Seeing my distress at losing out at The London Book Fair when my agent told me interest was shown in my novel but they ultimately passed, Betsy at Bloodhound asked to see what I was working on. I sent her two manuscripts. She could not publish the YA novel because it doesn't fit her list but said she would like to publish the dystopian thriller duology.
This was the push I needed and wow was I in for a shock. The whole process was a huge learning curve. I learn by doing so I had to get stuck in and see what would happen. I now understand how the industry works and what's expected of me. I’m forever grateful to Betsy, Fred and the team at Bloodhound for allowing me to learn on the job.
I was also being pushed forward by a band of wonderful friends and my mentor, Lucy V Hay, who has been cheering me on since we met online in 2013. At least, I think it was that year. I can’t remember how our paths crossed but I’m so glad they did. From there I met the incredible film maker, Chris Jones, who has been a source of encouragement and inspiration. I was asked to collaborate on a fun book/film project with writers I’d met through Chris’s Create50 initiative. I was also asked by the awesome Bob Schultz to be on a panel at London Screenwriters’ Festival, chatting to screenwriters about writing novels.
Not many people knew I had submitted a children’s animation to CBBC in 2014 and I think a few were baffled as to why I was asked to do the panel, so I had to reveal that little secret. Yep. I wanted to be a screenwriter but switched to novels because I didn’t know how to get into that industry. Now I know what I must do. There is a right time for everything.
My EPIC year looks like this: Oct 2017-2018
This is a lot in a year. Considering tumbleweeds where blowing past for the five years previous.
What does 2019 look like? In my mind, there are four novels published (though, if I only manage two, I will be happy). There will be more of my short stories out there. I want to find homes for a few that are written and waiting for life. I’m moving forward with screenwriting. I have some new mentors and the existing ones are still kicking my arse, which I’m super grateful for. I’m going back to CBBC with a new professional approach. I’m also going to work on a project using the story that started it all. London’s Crawling will be back but there’s more to London than the terrifying Spians.
If you’re a writer and currently hitting your head against a brick wall of rejection, my one piece of advice to you is GET OUT THERE. Meet people in the industry. There will be folks you immediately click with and those people are the ones you need to work with, go find them! Good luck.
Firstly, if you haven’t booked for LSF2020, you should do it now, here’s the link http://bit.ly/2D7Yp8d
Why are you still here?
Please book your ticket, you have twenty seconds to comply …
You now have fifteen seconds to comply!
Wondering what on Earth I’m talking about? Let me explain … ROBOCOP!
One of the highlights of LSF2018 was the Robocop: Script to Screen session.
Imagine sitting in cinema conditions, watching a classic cyberpunk action movie, writer friends either side of you, two industry pros are on the stage talking with legendary screenwriter Ed Neumeier about how his movie was made. OMFG! I must be dreaming!! Nope. It actually happened and then after we watched the movie the audience got to ask questions, and both of my friends asked a question! I was sitting between them like a stunned mullet. It was lucky Mark caught the Catchbox (portable microphone) before it smacked me in the head because I was sat there totally awestruck.
Robocop: Script to Screen was a finale to remember but there were so many highlights of LSF2018. I was at the festival as a speaker on a panel about novel writing, and as carer for my friend. I went into The London Screenwriters’ Festival as a novelist and children’s book author who dabbles in screenwriting. I came out a very different person, with lots of new ideas on where I want to take my career.
The Festival sparked a fire inside me that can never be extinguished.
I went to as many panels and talks as I could while aiding my lovely friend, who, as much as she needed me to help with mobility, was a great help to me as a guide and support for my first panel.
What exactly did I get out attending this amazing celebration of storytellers and creatives?
SO MUCH! And I didn’t even pitch or attend table reads.
I learned exactly which parts of the industry were for me and which were probably not for me. Writing for Games 0.9 was an eye-opener. Rhianna Pratchett (who was wearing the most awesome sparkly Batman ‘knuckleduster’ ring) gave the audience a clear picture of how the industry works and where writers fit in. I agree with Alfred Hitchcock in that the script is all important, and in the gaming world, it isn’t … yet. That is changing though. The girl next to me, who was also a Legend of Zelda fan (I have been playing this game since I was fourteen) was a perfect fit for the gaming world but it wasn’t for me.
Here are other panels/talks I attended & why they were super inspiring.
What Can Writers Learn from ‘The Handmaid’s Tale’?
I write dystopian novels – two published by Bloodhound Books. I love The Handmaid’s Tale and so this session was magic for me. It was a must for anyone wanting to master what it takes to write authentic characters and a convincing dystopian world. I learned an awful lot about what it takes to get the recipe just right for television and novels. Lucy is an excellent teacher and a lot of fun. My teenage daughter would have loved this session. They should teach this way in high schools.
The Beginning: Crafting the First Ten Pages That Hooks the Reader
What an inspirational and fun speaker Joey Tuccio is. His words are still echoing inside my head. “There are so many writers, make sure your work stands out!” I do take risks in order to get my work noticed so this was good to hear. At the end of his talk, Joey said he was going to pick people from the audience to pitch. I was HORRIFIED! Don’t pick me. I haven’t got anything prepared. I shrunk in my seat. A guy at the front put his hand up. Phew! Thank you, crazy dude. Seriously, who is nuts enough to volunteer to pitch to a room full of people … OMG! It’s my friend Mark! He didn’t know I was sat at the back. I was willing him to do well the entire time. He smashed it! Seeing your friends do well is a HUGE part of the festival. It’s not about competing, it’s about helping each other and cheering your peers on.
Writing for The Right Young Audience; how to hit your mark every time!
I’m a picture book author as well as a novelist but I’ve always felt drawn to writing children’s television. I love animation. My children are the perfect excuse to watch lots of kids shows. In 2015 I sent my first script to CBBC and they gave me some fab feedback and told me to get a pilot made. I had no idea how to do that so I put screenwriting to one side and concentrated on novels. After meeting the panel at LSF and listening to their experiences I realised children’s television was definitely for me. The speakers were warm, friendly and super talented. I made an important contact, and using her feedback, I now know how to move forward. THIS WAS WORTH ITS WEIGHT IN GOLD. Advice straight from a pro who is doing what you want to do. Where else are you going to get that? ONLY at The London Screenwriters’ Festival.
Creating Alien, Hitchhiker’s Guide, X-Files and Batman… Meet Dirk Maggs
Now, Aliens is one of my all-time favourite movies. The xenomorph is one of my all-time favourite monsters. Ripley is one of my all-time favourite characters … breathe, Emma! When Chris Jones announced the radio play three-page script competition I was so excited. OMFG! Then I realised I was going on a family holiday to Devon and had promised I wouldn’t take me laptop and the deadline was in a week. Noooooooooo!!! Hang on, I didn’t promise I wouldn’t take a notebook. Aha! I snuck off in the evenings to ‘read’ and wrote my Alien script longhand. I photographed it and sent it to my friend, who kindly typed it up and sent it in. My script, TERROR-SYNTH, was shortlisted. Whoop! Big thanks to Rachael for helping me submit. When our friend Kendall’s name was called as the winner we all cheered and stamped our feet. Then the fun began. The actors read their lines, directed by the legendary Dirk Maggs. Then the sound guy sat at his laptop, headphones on. He spliced the vocals with the music and sound effects, while we listened to Chris interview Dirk. In just one hour, the piece was ready. Chris turned off the lights and we listened to Alien: Airborne, in the dark. It had all the creepy sound effects from the movies. Laura was quivering beside me. It was scary. I freaking loved it. Inspired again. I’m going to learn how to write for radio. You can listen to the Audio HERE.
There you have it. That’s my view of the festival, and I didn’t even mention how much fun The British Screenwriting Awards are!
I’m told the three-day festival pass is over £700 in value. I can tell you, that’s true. Yet you’ll only pay HALF of that. Even if you’re not a screenwriter, it doesn’t matter, you’ll learn so much about craft and the art of storytelling. You can even pay for your ticket monthly.
LSF2020 is going to be a MONSTER! I mean that in a good way. You can bet there will be some BIG players in the industry there. What are you waiting for? Tickets are going fast. Come to LSF2020 and unlock your future. Your career is in your hands, don’t let it slip through your fingers. Grab every opportunity.
Emma Pullar is a bestselling and award-winning writer of dark fiction and children's books. Her picture book, Curly from Shirley, was a national bestseller and named best opening lines by NZ Post. Emma has one writing competition and awards for her short stories and short scripts. Emma's debut novel, Skeletal, was published by Bloodhound Books in autumn 2017, the sequel, Avian, was published summer 2018.
Emma's crime debut, Paper Dolls, was released March 2019. The audiobook is out Aug 15th and Czech Republic edition will be published in 2020.
Emma also writes articles for Bang2write and Into the Script.
Follow Emma on Twitter @EmmaStoryteller or Instagram @emmapullar_storyteller or fb Emma Pullar.
Follow Emma on Goodreads.